Evans, Gov. John

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .

(1814 - 1897)

John Evans was born into a Quaker family in Waynesville, Ohio and pursued a degree as a medical doctor at Lynn Medical College in Cincinnati, Ohio.

He was instrumental in the creation of Indiana's first insane asylum and school for the deaf, helped found Mercy Hospital in Chicago, served as a professor at Rush Medical College in Chicago and founded the Illinois Medical Society.

His research of the cholera epidemic of 1848-9 played an important role in developing congressional quarantine laws to prevent the spread of the disease.

His wealth came from investing in real estate and railroads – the Chicago & Fort Wayne and the Chicago & Evanston – and enabled him to have influence with politics.

He served on the Chicago City Council and was involved with the Republican Party in Illinois where he ran for Congress and became a friend of Abraham Lincoln's.

He was one of the founders of Northwestern University where he chaired the Board of Trustees until he died.  Evanston, Illinois, was named to honor him.

His first wife (Hannah Canby – 1813–1850) died, and he remarried in 1853, Margaret P. Gray (1830–1906).  With a 5-year-old daughter (Josephine) from his first marriage, he and his second wife added three more children to the family – Willie, Evan and Anne.

President Lincoln named him the second governor of the Colorado Territory, a position which he held from 1862 to 1965.  In spite of the discovery of gold in 1858 and an estimated 100,000 prospectors who arrived in the area, at the time of his governorship, the population of Colorado was less than 35,000.

In 1864 he was a founder of the Colorado Seminary, a Methodist institution, with the intention of civilizing Denver, which was just a mining camp at the time, only having officially become a city in 1858. The seminary evolved into the University of Denver in 1880.  Evans chaired the Colorado Seminary Board of Trustees until his death.

Two years into his administration (1864), Evans and the Legislature received word that Congress had passed an act providing for a Colorado State Government.   The Sand Creek Massacre caused Evans to lose his appointment as the governor and Evans' association with that contributed to the delay of Colorado's acceptance as a state until 1876.  Shortly after Lincoln's assassination, the Secretary of War asked for his resignation.

With his political career ended, Evans concentrated his energy on developing Colorado's railroads, becoming the main financier of Denver's railroad empire for the next 30 years.  He secured federal land grants and county bonds to create a Union Pacific line between Denver and Cheyenne, Wyoming.  This link to the first transcontinental railroad added 100 new residents to the City of Denver on a daily basis and more than 1,000 visitors to the area during the first month after its first run in June of 1870.

Other railroads attributed to his vision and financial backing include:  the Denver & South Park, the Denver & New Orleans, the Denver Texas & Gulf, the Kansas Pacific, and the Boulder Valley.  His influence helped to make Denver the commercial center of the Rocky Mountain Empire.

Soon after his governorship ended, Evans – along with Samuel Elbert – acquired 320 acres of land at the upper end of Bear Creek, property known as the Kuhlborne Ranch.  Acquisitions increased his holdings to 800 acres in the late 1800s; after his death the ranch expanded to about 6,000 acres by the 1920s.  It would be known locally as the Evans Ranch.

The ranch was used for cutting timber for railroad ties.  Hay, barley and oats were harvested as well until 1917 when elk were reintroduced into the area; crops and timber were hauled over Squaw Pass by wagon and a team of four horses.

Evans had organized the first wagon road down Bear Creek to Morrison, initially for transporting lumber. The canyon boasted as many as 50 bridges crossing the creek at one time.

The original log home on the Evans Ranch, built in 1869, was destroyed by fire in 1910.

He reportedly spent little time at the ranch, but the Evans family spent their summers there.  Getting to the far end of Upper Bear Creek from Denver was an all-day trip: first a 2-hour train ride from Denver to Morrison, then a stagecoach ride from Morrison to Evergreen.  Disembarking the stage, passengers would then board a buckboard for the last 10+ miles to the ranch. Family members spent long summers at the ranch, and guests generally stayed weeks at a time when they visited.

Initially the peaks west of Idaho Springs were called Chicago Peaks, but the Evans family referred to the tallest peak as Mt. Evans.  A note in a can buried on the summit read "Saturday, Septembr 14, 1872, summit of Mt. Evans by barometer 14,525 feet above sea level.  Seven (7) guns fired at 10:00 a.m. as a salute to Governor Evans of Denver and his mountain.  Signed H. G. Lunt and C. Moody"  The naming of the mountain was officially recognized by the Colorado Legislature on March 15, 1895.

To raise capital in the early 1890s, Evans mortgaged his half of the ranch to his son-in-law, Samuel Elbert, who owned the other half.  After Evans' death in 1897 the Evans Realty Company was created to sort out his holdings.  And upon the death of Elbert two years later, a "summer colony" grew, as plots of land were deeded to children and other relatives.

In the early 1980s, when one of the descendants of Gov. Evans wanted to realize income from the sale of land, Colorado Open Lands was contracted to subdivide the ranch, protecting the bulk of it from development through conservation easements.  It was divided into five smaller ranches ranging in size from 530 to 580 acres.  Each had a 40-acre homesite reserved for structures.  The "association" maintains another 129-acre parcel that includes the ranch headquarters, and Colorado Open Lands maintains 267 acres for a cultural / environmental / educational program with restricted access.

In World War II, the United States liberty ship SS John Evans was named in honor of the former governor.

Sources:  Colorado State Archives; Barbara Sternberg; Evergreen, Our Mountain Community by the Sternbergs; Wikipedia: University of Denver

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